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Bruins hurting from Game 6 loss, but proud of their 2023-24 season

BOSTON -- The end of a season hits like a ton of bricks, and that's how the Bruins felt after Friday night's 2-1 loss to the Panthers in Game 6 in Boston. 

It looked like the fans at TD Garden would get some extra hockey with the Bruins and Panthers knotted at one in the final minutes. But dreams of a Game 7 on Sunday were dashed when Florida scored with 1:33 left, and Boston couldn't get an equalizer by Sergei Bobrovsky.

So for the second straight season, the Bruins' playoff run ended with a heartbreaking home loss to the Panthers. While it was difficult for players to stomach in the immediate aftermath of the defeat, this year was far different from the sting of the 2022-23 postseason.

Last year, the Bruins were coming off a historic regular season and determined to win a Stanley Cup for Patrice Bergeron in his last hurrah. Instead, they were stunned by the 8-seeded Panthers in seven games, letting a 3-1 series lead slip away in the process.

Heading into this season, following the retirement of Bergeron and David Krejci, the expectations for the Bruins were fairly low. Some even had Boston finishing outside of the playoff picture, believing 2023-24 would be nothing more than a bridge year.

The Bruins proved them wrong. Very, very wrong.

Boston went out and won 47 games and looked like Cup contenders throughout much of the campaign. Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark were both great in net, with Swayman emerging as a stud throughout the postseason.

David Pastrnak was a beast once again with 110 points, and though he scored 14 fewer goals than last season (going from 61 to 47), he racked up a career-high 63 assists. Charlie Coyle set new career highs with 25 goals and 60 points, and Brad Marchand showed maturity on the ice in his first year as captain.

The season ended without anyone in a Spoked-B sweater raising the Stanley Cup, which means the season ended in disappointment. But that in no way means it was a bad season for the Boston Bruins, and players reflected on that following Friday night's loss.

The 2023-24 Bruins made their captain proud

Brad Marchand has come a long way throughout his career, growing from a fourth-line pest to the man with the "C" on his sweater. He spoke of how proud he was of his team following Friday's loss.

"I really can't even put into words how proud I am of this group. From where we started and the expectations to start the season, everyone wrote us off and said we wouldn't even be a playoff team. And we were one of the best teams in the league," said Marchand. 

"We had a lot of new guys, a lot of new roles, and we built something special," he continued. "We had hiccups along the way but from where we started and where we finished, I couldn't be more proud of the guys."

Head coach Jim Montgomery delivered a similar message to players in the dressing room.

"I thanked them and said it was an honor to coach them because of the hard work and competitiveness they brought out throughout the year. That's the biggest thing I wanted to get across," he said.

Boston loves Jeremy Swayman

The future in net is looking bright for Boston, with Jeremy Swayman emerging as a star goaltender this postseason. After the loss, Bruins fans chanted Swayman's name as players raised their sticks to the crowd, which will stay with the 25-year-old forever.

"Tears. Tears," Swayman said of the his reaction to Boston fans. "I couldn't be more grateful to have a city, a home base as supportive as Boston. They are more than just fans to me."

Swayman went through restricted free agency with Boston last offseason, which wasn't a great experience for him. But everything he experienced throughout the season -- especially from the crowd on Friday night -- makes it sound like Swayman wants to stay in Boston for a long, long time.

"This is truly a home for me now. I'm just so grateful for all the love and support," he said. "We wouldn't be here without them and that was an incredible moment."

Lack of offense hurt the Bruins in the playoffs

The Bruins also had to address the biggest issue they had over the final five games of the series. They struggled to score, and when they had chances, they couldn't finish.

The Bruins erupted for five goals in their Game 1 win in Florida, but had trouble finding the back of the net the rest of the way. Boston scored just eight goals over the final five games of the series, and lost two games by one goal.

"We didn't get enough offense," said Jake DeBrusk, who led the team with five goals during the playoffs. "A couple one-goal games that, guys like myself should have done more. 

"Saying that, they're a really good team over there," DeBrusk said of the Panthers, who outscored Boston 19-13 in the series. "They're a wagon and they have been all year."

"You can't win every game 2-1," Montgomery said after Friday's loss. "We had opportunities. ... Their goalie was good and we didn't beat him. We played too much in our end in the second and third period tonight.

"Some players had tremendous growth and they should be proud of that," Montgomery added. "But we have to find a way to win our last game of the year."

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